« PreviousContinue »
great good-nature, and said, “Sir, I have found out, upon reflection, that I was both warm and wrong
my argument with you last night ; for the first of which I beg your pardon, and for the second I thank you for setting me right.”
In January, 1759, Johnson's mother died at the advanced age of ninety; and the impression it made on his mind appears in his “Rasselas," which, elegant, but rather sombre little tale, he wrote in the evenings of one week, and sent to the press in portions as it was written, that he might be thereby enabled to defray the expenses of her funeral, and discharge some little debts she had incurred.
Soon after the accession of his present majesty, Johnson's merits were rewarded with a pension of three hundred pounds a year, for which some virulent writers have abused him as inconsistent and unprincipled. But Johnson did not purchase his pension by venal services, nor engage to exercise his pen in the defence of any administration. They who have censured Johnson for accepting a royal favour granted without solicitation, might with equal justice condemn the hand by which it was so graciously bestowed.
In 1778, Johnson published the first four volumes of his Prefaces, biographical and critical, to the most eminent of the English poets, which were followed in less than two years by the remaining volumes. This is the work which gives the greatest splen
dour to his literary character, as exhibiting a body of bold, penetrating, and elegant criticism, such as cannot be rivalled by any production of ancient or modern time. Yet it has been cavilled at by several writers, who have felt resentment. against this great critick for not thinking exactly as they would have had him, on the merits of their favourite poets. But Johnson was a man who thought for himself; and he had the intrepi. dity to express his opinion, without regard to popular judgment, or a deference to great authorities.
With this observation we shall close our notice of Johnson's literary character, which stands upon a rock not to be shaken by the malevolence of his enemies. There were peculiarities in the man, as well as in the writer ; but the peculiarities of Johnson were rendered more conspicuous by the splendour of his talents, and the virtues of his heart. His mind was strongly imbued with religious sentiment, and he had so deep a sense of the infinite purity and justice of his Creator, and such a conviction of his own failings, that his devotion was considered, by those who have little or no devotional feeling themselves, as the gloom of a superstitious, or the dream of an enthusiastic imagination. It is true, froin bodily infirmity, and from a too susceptible mind, he was sometimes the slave of his fears. But his apprehensions of death, and the dread of appearing before his Saviour, arose from a principle which
prodhi been art
places his moral character even above his literary
After fixing the standard of the English lan-
In Mr. Pennington's memoirs of Mrs. Elizabeth Carter, the translator of Epictetus, is the following letter from Johnson to that lady:
“ From the liberty of writing to you, if I have bitherto been deterred by the fear of your understanding, I am now encouraged to it by the confidence of your goodness.
“ I am soliciting a benefit for Miss Williams, and beg that
“To every joy is appended a sorrow. The name of Miss
unburthened with any great crime; and for the positive duties of religion, I have yet no right to condemn him for neglect.
I am, with respect, which I neither owe nor pay to any other,
« Madam, “ Your most obedient and most humble servant,
“ SAM, JOHNSON."
In the same entertaining work is the following anecdote:
" For Dr. Johnson Mrs. Carter had to the last a very great esteem, and always spoke in high terms of his constant attention to religious duties, and the soundness of his moral principles. In one of their latest conversations, she was expressa ing this opinion of him to himself; he took her by the hand, and said with much earnestness, “ You know this to be true, and testify it to the world when I am gone!" She lost no opportunity of complying with his request; and always reprobated severely the conduct of some of his biographers, who published, as the genuine dictates of his heart, opinions broached in the warmth of argument, and maintained for the sake of victory in it.”
ADDISON, Joseph, his defence of Sir Thomas More, 20.
memoir and anecdotes of, 354.
Pope's ill-treatinent of, 444.
account of the death of, 340.
BACON, Sir Nicholas, anecdotes of, 25.
Sir Francis, account of, ib.
Waller's speech in favour of, 286.
his present to Booth, 363.
Pope's treatment of, 451.
CAMDEN, William, character of, 113.